Fifteen presidents have visited Asheville, but none have visited the Blue Ridge Parkway or stepped foot on a trail.
That changed last weekend when President and First Lady Obama vacationed in Asheville. Immediately after arriving last Friday, they headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville. After a scenic 15-minute drive from mileposts 382 to 375, the Obama motorcade stopped at the parking area where Ox Creek Road intersects the Parkway. From there, they hiked between Bull Gap and Craven Gap for about an hour. The 2.3-mile stretch is one of the flattest sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) in Western North Carolina. The trail descends gently from the Ox Creek Road intersection to Craven Gap, with one steep hill about 0.3 miles from the parking area. From there, the trail crosses two small streams and an impressive field of boulders. At 3,000 feet, the trail offers scenic vistas through trees that are still leafing out, but primarily it is a tunnel of green.
Why did the Obamas choose this section of trail? One reason may have been crowd control: most hikers opt for in-town stretches of the MST or for the mountain climbs and views, like the Shut-In section or Craggy Gardens. The relatively flat terrain and easy access may have also appealed to the Obamas and their security entourage; there are two parking areas on either end of the hike and only light vehicle traffic along the Blue Ridge Parkway that parallels the trail.
However one 65-year-old woman was lucky enough to cross paths with the President and First Lady. Karen Russell, a 65-year-old tourist from Westerville, Ohio, had been hiking along the Mountains to Sea Trail for about an hour when she encountered two secret service agents dressed in black. They scanned her with a metal detecting wand, scoured her fanny pack, and examined her camera before allowing her to proceed. Moments later, she was standing face-to-face with President Obama.
If you want to follow in the footsteps of the President and First Lady, park at either the Craven Gap or Ox Creek parking areas (mileposts 377.4 and 375.6 respectively). For a slightly longer jaunts, park at the Folk Art Center at Milepost 382, or hike down from Craggy Gardens at milepost 367.6.